SITREP 31/2013

August 2, 2013

new_so_helmets.sizedInside this issue:

  • Officer Promotions Update #5
  • IRC finding on 2012 workers comp strike
  • Minimum crewing – the Commissioner responds

Officer Promotions Update #5

As SITREP 30/2013 reported, the dispute over the Department’s hasty and half-arsed attempt to abolish the existing merit selection system for Inspectors returned to the IRC on Wednesday. The IRC had previously directed the Union to prepare a series of questions for the Department, and the Department to answer those questions. Cick here for the Union’s letter, and click here for the Department’s answers.

In short, Commissioner Newall directed the (clearly cranky) FRNSW representatives to lift their 2 August deadline for the submission of applicant portfolios pending further conciliation on 19 August.

Rather than accept that consultation has not yet concluded management are instead weeping crocodile tears over this delay. All members should be clear on what is at stake here. The Department intends wholesale change to the merit selection process. It is cloaking this in feigned concern for the welfare of candidates. The reality is that management want the ability to choose candidates who suit them.

The Union is willing to negotiate change, but by bringing on this issue now, by springing a new and undercooked selection process on the workforce, the Department is attempting to get the system it wants without negotiation, and on the cheap. The Department expects significant cultural change and improved productivity in its new system, and so the appropriate course, the reasonable course, is to talk about this in our 2014 Award negotiations. This would still allow those who have studied for the exam a fair run, and might allow all of us some leverage in those negotiations.

Union comment on the Department’s answers to our questions can also be found by clicking here, but to cherry pick that document – the new “practical assessment” has been drawn up, according to the employer, in response to members wanting more practical skills in the IPP Pre-Entry Test. Good. So what will this test examine? Computer skills; human resource skills and people management; high level decision making; how to use policies on the station portal. Oh, and a bit of incident management. I am sure most members would agree that the most important practical skill of an Inspector is how to run an incident. Apparently the Department does not agree. More to follow.

IRC finding on 2012 workers comp strike

More than 13 months (and tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in legal fees) after the event, FRNSW and the O’Farrell Government have persuaded a Full Bench of the Industrial Relations Commission that the Union’s successful strike action that won members an exemption from O’Farrell’s cruel changes to workers compensation laws on 21 June last year was within the IRC’s jurisdiction.

On 21 June 2012, the day of the strike, FRNSW filed a dispute with the IRC seeking dispute orders to prevent the strike. The IRC declined to make the orders sought, mainly on the unresolved question of whether it had jurisdiction to do so in those circumstances. As members would be aware, the strike ceased at 1800 hours. Nonetheless, FRNSW and the Minister for Industrial Relations pressed on with their arguments before the IRC for another year. In the end the Full Bench rejected our argument that because our strike was a political dispute, and not an industrial dispute, the IRC did not have jurisdiction because it could not resolve the workers compensation issue.

The Full Bench held that the dispute was an industrial matter because striking where there is a duty to work affected or related “to work done or to be done in any industry, or the privileges, rights, duties or obligations of employers or employees in any industry”, as per s6 of the Industrial Relations Act. A copy of the decision can be downloaded by clicking here.

Regardless, striking was the right thing to do. If members need reminding about what was at stake on 21 June last year, a check of our guide to the workers compensation changes that now apply to nearly every other worker in the state – O’Farrell’s Workers Comp – the bullet we just dodged (29 June 2012) still makes for sober reading.

Minimum crewing – the Commissioner responds

A Q&A item about safe and effective minimum staffing in this week’s Commish’s Corner (#569) caught our eye. For those who missed it, we reproduce here it in full:

Q. Recently the FBEU SITREP put down a challenge to you to refute that there are plans to reduce safe and effective crewing levels of SO and 3. Is your lack of response an indication that this is on the cards and is being actively considered?

A. No. The FBEU is well aware of my strong views on the safe and effective crewing level of SO & 3 given that (a) I was an elected union official when we secured increased crewing, and (b) I wrote to the FBEU last year about our budget, and clearly stated therein that reducing crew sizes below SO and 3 is not something that I will consider. The FBEU published my letter and I believe it is still on the FBEU website. Regrettably many FBEU SITREPs seem at pains to paint a picture of conflict and outrage, often with no real basis in fact that I can discern, and I choose not to respond to any personal attacks therein.

No real basis in fact? Less than a decade ago we had the following –

“minor kitchen fires, or similar, could be readily handled by a crew of S/O & 1, or S/O & 2”
(Commissioner Mullins, email to all NSWFB staff, 31 August 2004)

“many of those structure fires relates to things like a pot of chips on a stove – you would have seen the TV advertisement some years ago – which could be very safely handled by that fast response crew.”
(Commissioner Mullins to the NSW Parliament’s General Purpose Standing Committee No.5, 16 September 2004)

The reason why the Union is concerned about possible assaults on safe and effective minimum staffing is twofold: firstly, management has expressed a desire to move on this issue in the past; and secondly, we have sought, obtained, and now released secret 2012 cost-cutting plans that include such proposals.

To be clear, my invitation to Commissioner Mullins in SITREP 27/2013 and SITREP 28/2013 was to confirm the rejection of all of the yet-to-be implemented nasties proposed in the confidential 2012 FRNSW paper we released in SITREP 26/2013, not just Appendix 6 (“Special Purpose” S/O and 1 stations).  The invitation still stands.

Finally, it is a pity that Commissioner Mullins characterises the Union’s critique and questions as “personal attacks”. Nothing could be further from the truth, and dismissing them as such trivialises  legitimate scrutiny of the management of FRNSW. Perhaps the Union is jumping at shadows. Perhaps all of the cost-cutting proposals we leaked in SITREP 26/2013 were nothing more than “thought experiments”. But until we get firm answers we will keep on asking the questions. There’s nothing “personal” about that.

Jim Casey
State Secretary



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